Thursday, May 20, 2010

Achieve the Dream

"To sleep, perchance to dream-
ay, there's the rub."

Hamlet (III, i, 65-68)

The quote is from Hamlet's famous soliloquy where he is contemplating suicide. Small wonder. The poor guy's just found out (from this father's ghost, no less), that his uncle murdered his father, the King, and then married his mother. Hamlet is totally flipped out by this revelation and can't see anyway to deal with it besides killing himself. The problem is, he doesn't know that death will end his pain. "There's the rub", to quote the bard.

To die, to sleep-No more.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil
Must give us pause.

Last night, I wrote a blog about nightmares or rather, whether it is preferable to live our waking life as a nightmare or to seek the comfort and peace of sleep and dreams. Hamlet wonders if, even in death, we have dreams, or in his case, nightmares, so even suicide is no answer. What's the answer to pain and suffering?

Hamlet doesn't provide an adequate answer for us. He seems to go mad with grief but all the while is seeking revenge upon his uncle Claudius as his father's ghost has commanded him. In a series of misadventures, Hamlet eventually achieves revenge by killing Claudius but then dies as a result of being poisoned. Doesn't seem a satisfying ending, but that's a Shakespeare tragedy for you.

If we can't sleep forever to escape our nightmares and if death is no answer, what's left? As hideous as it seems sometimes, the only other option is to keep on living somehow. If Hamlet had actually gone mad and stayed that way, he would have been harmless (most likely) and would have spent the rest of his days in some asylum (too early for Arkham, though). However, most of us don't have the "luxury" of going out of our minds with grief or dispair, though depression too is a "mental illness".

Is pursuit of dreams or their waking equivalent, fantasy an answer? My blog articles are littered with the images of superheroes, mostly of the dark variety. Batman is a favorite because he is "the night", dark, brooding, and tortured. Yet Batman is the expression of Bruce's frustration and grief at the death of his parents and his need to do something about it. Ironically, long after the death of Joe Chill, the man who killed his parents, Batman continues to exist. If Hamlet had lived after the death of Claudius, would he have continued down a similar path by seeking further revenge as Bruce seems to be doing?

Whatever the answer, Bruce continues to live and Batman gives him the purpose of fighting larger injustices than his own. For me, the pursuit of fantasy isn't just an escape from the mundane and the meloncholy, but a quest for purpose as well. In yesterday's blog Misfit, I described how many of our cherished heroes are anomalies or anachronisms in someway, not fitting in with the world around them, even in secret.

Of course, Clark does "fit in" behind the glasses and the tie, able to lead a more or less normal life while still maintaining his Superman identity and thus fulfilling his destiny to be humanity's greatest defender. Ben Grimm by comparison, is hard to hide behind glasses or anything else, though very early in his career, he did try to wear a mask (and unfortunately, I can't find any images online showing this). He tried to go out in public in a large raincoat and hat, but that didn't hide much.

Ben continually struggles with his appearence as the Thing (and even the name is pretty much a diss), but the hero inside pushes back with courage and sorrow striking a balance. How many times has he come to the realization (in error) that the only thing he has to offer anyone is his physical strength? In reality, from the point of view of the audience, his real power is the ability to live with disfigurement and isolation. He doesn't (typically) withdraw, but projects his rage against external foes, of which, as a member of the Fantastic Four, he always has a ready supply.

The same with Batman, Spider-Man, and just about a ton of other heroes. When the going gets tough emotionally, the tough go out and beat up a bad guy. In real life, getting into a fist fight everytime life gets you down will either get you beaten to a pulp or tossed in jail. What do to..what to do?

The essense of the answer remains, even if the form must be different; find a purpose and focus your emotional response there. What is my purpose? I have a job and a family and other responsibilities, but they don't always feel like my purpose. If they did, my life would be set. In some ways, writing this blog is in the direction of my purpose. The expression of frustration at personal and societal injustices in the form of writing and hopefully, drawing when time allows.

No costumes. No superpowers. No good guys. No bad guys. Just a sense of being a misfit caught in the maelstrom of a nightmare life, trying to turn and twist the disadvantage into a purpose. Battle the nightmare to achieve the dream. Find the magic and hold on to it.



  1. thank you for writing this, it really struck a cord.

  2. Thanks. Given the "disturbing" nature of the blog post, I hope you're doing OK.